There are no giraffe in Ghana; or, how to not run a corporate social media account

Corporate social media gaffes can range from the blatantly offensive to the unintentionally hilarious. And in the big picture of Twitter faux pas, the tweet by @Delta after the USA-Ghana game definitely isn’t as bad as Justine Sacco’s.

Still, considering Delta flies a number of routes throughout Africa, you’d think the company would avoid sending out Lion King-esque stereotypes on its Twitter account.

The company tweeted this picture after the USA beat Ghana, the team that has been its kryptonite for the last two World Cups:


Here’s the problem: There are most certainly no giraffe in Ghana. The nearest sizable giraffe population is about 2,500 miles away on the opposite side of the continent.

You’d think Delta would know this, considering it advertises its flights to Ghana and has one of the most extensive African networks of any American airline.

Sure this may have been a simple mistake by an overzealous employee, but it does illustrate the real issue of brands and media companies dumbing Africa down to trite stereotypes. (Check out the awesome blog/Twitter account Africa is a Country if you want to see more examples.)

Africa is as diverse as any other continent. It is made up of 54 countries full of people who speak roughly 3,000 languages.

Some of those countries are in bad shape, sure, but many have growing middles classes with much to contribute to the global economy. Take South Africa, Botswana or Ghana, which is often held up as a model African state with a strong commitment to human rights and peaceful democracy.

Despite this reality, I have lost count of the times that people look at me with shock or confusion when I tell them I chose to live for three months in South Africa. Was it safe? Is the government there stable? Are there warlords in charge?

South Africa is not Somalia. Botswana is not South Sudan. Ghana is not the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet when Africa is again and again represented by stereotypes, how are Americans supposed to understand that each African country should be judged by its own merits?

Delta, by the way, has since deleted its tweet. The company tweeted out an apology with a typo, deleted that, then apologized again. Not a great Twitter day.


Election Day in South Africa

South African President Jacob Zuma. (Photo from World Economic Forum/Creative Commons)

South African President Jacob Zuma. (Photo from World Economic Forum/Creative Commons)

South Africans will head to the polls on Wednesday for just their fifth national election since the end of apartheid in 1994. If the polls are to be believed, the African National Congress and incumbent President Jacob Zuma will retain power, despite facing scandals and a barrage of criticism during his previous term.

There are two lenses through which you could easily view this election: as a triumph for a young democracy or as a slide backwards after so many positive gains.

Neither is 100 percent accurate.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu had harsh words

when speaking to a South African newspaper.

“I didn’t think there would be a disillusionment so soon. I’m glad that (Nelson Mandela) is dead. I’m glad that most of these people are no longer alive to see this,” a reference to a host of chronic problems such as corruption and poverty,” he said.

He went on to say that he wouldn’t vote for the ANC.

While it appears to ANC will win regardless, the best barometer for the future of South African politics might come in Gauteng Province, home of Johannesburg.

The ANC’s chief rival, the Democratic Alliance, is making a strong push to take over power in the country’s most populous province. Even if they don’t win, a strong showing could tip the balance of power slightly more away from the ANC and have large ramifications in future elections.

The DA, after all, already controls Cape Town and the Western Cape, which is South Africa’s second most populous province.

South Africa is still a very young democracy. Even where it might fail today, it’s encouraging to see the system does have the capability to right itself.

I know many of my South African friends are heading to the polls today. Here is what my friend Sean said about voting:

“Whatever you do, make it count. It is a great privilege to live in this amazing country and to share in the freedoms it stands for.”

Happy Election Day, South Africa.

Politics and race in South Africa

A blunt South African political advertisement has been making the rounds on social media in South Africa. I want to show it to you because I think it provides an excellent glimpse into the politics of a country still struggling to find its political footing two decades after the end of apartheid.

The ad was produced by a political party called the Democratic Alliance. It comes ahead of the May 7 elections and blasts their chief rival, the African National Congress.

The DA and the ANC are the two largest political parties in South Africa, although the ANC – which was Nelson Mandela’s party –has a dominant hold everywhere except Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province.

The ad features the DA’s candidate for premiere (equivalent of an American governor) in Gauteng province, which is home to Johannesburg.

The candidate, Mmusi Maimame, is speaking directly to the camera. But he’s not just speaking to anyone. Maimame is really speaking directly to other black South Africans.

Now is a good time to teach you lesson one in South African politics: Race and politics are inextricable. (This actually applies to many aspects of South African life.)

This ad is an attack ad on the ANC, but paradoxically Maimame opens by praising what the ANC has done in the past. “There have been some great leaders, leaders who have taken this country forward. You voted for them,” he says.

He’s talking about Mandela and the other ANC leaders who led South Africa out of apartheid. They truly deserve the praise.

With that out of the way, cue the transition to ominous music.

“But since 2008 we have seen President Jacob Zuma’s ANC. An ANC that is corrupt, an ANC for the connected few. It’s an ANC that is taking us backwards,” Maimame continues.

Those be fighting words.

More on that in a minute, but first a brief history lesson on SA politics over the last 20 years.

It wasn’t until the end of apartheid in 1994 that black and colored South Africans were given the right to fully participate in elections.

Given that South Africa is 80 percent black and 10 percent colored, you can see how this radically changed SA politics overnight.

Nelson Mandela and his ANC cruised to victory in the first free South African election, securing more than 62 percent of the votes cast.

In every national election since – they happen every five years – the ANC has also found a relatively easy path to victory. Mandela declined to run for a second term and his successor Thabo Mbeki stayed in power for the next ten years.

During Mbeki’s time in office the post-apartheid sheen of the ANC began to fade a bit. Mbeki faced a string of controversies and eventually was forced to resign after the ANC stopped supporting him in parliament.

That paved the way for Jacob Zuma to become president in the next election, which brings us to the Zuma era and a divisive time in SA politics.

Even before he was president, Zuma faced corruption and rape charges, both of which he managed to beat.

In the rape case he claimed the sex was consensual, although he didn’t use a condom with the woman who was known to be HIV-positive. The judge, activists and the press all condemned him after he famously explained that he showered after the sex to reduce his chances of contracting HIV.

South Africa has what is known as a proportional representation voting system. That means that instead of directly electing a president, South Africans vote for their local members of parliament. If a party earns a majority in parliament it can then appoint the president.

The ANC won 66 percent of the vote in the 2009 federal election and Zuma became president.

Despite the win, the ANC’s power was starting to erode. Political parties largely control regional and municipal operations and for the first time in 2009 the Democratic Alliance took control of the Western Cape, South Africa’s second most populous province and home to Cape Town.

Fast-forward to today and Zuma is a more divisive figure than ever. Most recently, he faces intense criticism after an independent public auditor found that $20 million of public money was used to fund upgrades at Zuma’s private rural compound.

The state justified the expenses as necessary security upgrades, but the auditor concluded they were largely excessive and ordered Zuma to repay the state.

The upgrades included a helipad, swimming pool, a visitor’s center and a new chicken coop (for security, of course).

So why, you ask, is this guy still in power? Because the ANC is still a powerful force in South African politics.

The center-left DA is the strongest alternative, but its reputation as a party for white or colored people make it a hard sell for many black South Africans reluctant to abandon the party that brought South African out of apartheid.

Hence the DA put forward a black candidate in the predominantly black Gauteng province and filmed an ad with him speak directly to black voters. Their goal is clear: convince black voters that shunning the ANC doesn’t mean you are betraying the legacy of Mandela and the other ANC leaders who bravely fought apartheid.

Maimane closes the ad with the phrase “ANC ayisafani,” which roughly translates to “the ANC isn’t what it used to be.”

For better or worse, the DA realizes they need more black faces to gain serious ground outside the Western Cape. In January they went all-in on that approach.

Realizing they needed black votes to win a national election, the DA forged an alliance with a party called Agang SA.

A woman named Mamphela Ramphele formed Agang SA as an ANC alternative run by black leadership. Ramphele negotiated a coalition with the DA and as part of the deal she was picked as the DA’s presidential candidate.

It seemed like a good move at the start. The DA got a foothold among black voters and Agang could use the DA’s network to significantly grow its influence.

The deal didn’t last long, however.

As expected, the ANC was the first to blast the coalition. In one of the more brazen political attacks I’ve ever seen, an ANC spokesman actually called Ramphele the DA’s “rent-a-black candidate.”

Members of her own party then accused her of stabbing them in the back. Within just a few days the coalition collapsed and Ramphele pulled her name out of the running.

She originally thought her decision marked a move in South Africa towards a new political thinking, but later apologized for the move and said the timing was not right.

“Some [people] cannot or will not transcend party politics. We see people trapped in old-style race-based politics,” she told South African news website Times Live.

I think it’s easy to view racial politics as a form of racism, but the reality is more complicated.

Racial politics have proven to be dangerous for South Africa both under apartheid and after, but that doesn’t mean we should expect it to disappear overnight. You have to understand the complex factors that led to this point, including history, culture and access to education.

Think about it – a more educated and informed electorate will foster independent thought and help people break away from corrupt parties.

This upcoming election will be the first in which members of the “born free” generation will participate. These are young voters who have only known a post-apartheid world. Watching how they vote will be a strong barometer for the future of South African politics.

Hanging out with the lions and elephants at Kruger National Park

Kruger-15Sorry the blog has been quiet the past few weeks. With Ali and Marcus in town visiting we were pretty much on the go non-stop or sitting on a beach where wifi wasn’t exactly easy to come by. Then came a whirlwind last two days in Cape Town and now a brief stint in Istanbul.

I’ll write more on Istanbul, plus some of my final thoughts on South Africa, in a few days. First, let’s talk about the last few weeks in Southern Africa. Playing tour guide in Cape Town was a blast, but I think the highlights of the trip for me were Kruger National Park and Mozambique.

Clearly I’ve long had a soft spot for Southern Africa, but I really fell in love with the region in 2011 when I visited Chobe National Park in Botswana and had a chance to drive through the vast park alongside elephant, giraffes, lions and hippos.

Going into Kruger I was eager to see the last two of the “big five” animals on my list (cheesy, I know, but I’m really into it). For the uninitiated, the big five are: African elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion.



The list apparently was created by hunters because these are the most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. I’ve heard countless arguments that giraffe, hippo, cheetah, etc. should be included. Those animals are all amazing but the list is the list. Although I’m not sure who has a hard time hunting Cape buffalo. They are slow and hang out in giant herds. C’mon.

Leopard and rhino were my outstanding animals and I had a chance to see both. Unlike other parks in the region, Kruger still has both white and black rhino.

The park also has elephants, giraffes, large herds of zebra, hyenas, hippos, wildebeest, caracals, servals, jackals, wild dogs, wild cats, kudu, a gazillion impala … the list goes on and on and on.

A rare wild dog.

A rare wild dog.


One of the joys of Kruger is the fact you can drive yourself around. The park is extremely well-marked with plenty of wildlife near the roads.

You drive slowly with one eye on the road and one eye on the bush. If you’re lucky you’ll spot something on your own. Often, you’ll see a scrum of brake lights ahead then try to inch your way closer to see what everyone else is gawking at.

A hyena

A hyena.


In one particular hilarious moment we pulled into turnoff to survey the banks of a nearby river. We didn’t see any wildlife, but noticed a spider that was the size of an iPhone hanging from the biggest web I’ve ever seen.

We backed up to get a closer view, which attracted the attention of others passing by on the main road. One car soon pulled in behind us, followed shortly by another.

That triggered a chain reaction and soon there were half a dozen or so cars in the turn off.

One guy rolled down his window to ask “what do you see?” His disappointment was palpable when the reply was “a spider.” (But for real, it was an incredible spider.)

We ended up in areas a few times where lions and leopards had been spotted, but didn’t see any cats during our self-drive tours.

As you might expect, we had much better luck during the two drives we did with professional guides. The first was an early morning drive that started about 90 minutes before sunrise.

Well, it was supposed to start 90 minutes before sunrise, but apparently nobody told the guide there were guests that morning so he only showed up when somebody called him 30 minutes after we were supposed to leave.

It was a moot point in the end because we ended up having a very eventful drive. Not long after the start we came across a few hyena, followed a short time later by a rhino couple that was standing about 15-20 meters from the road. I checked rhino off the list.



After driving a few kilometers we saw some stopped trucks ahead. Our guide told us there was a pride of lions alongside the road.

With a few power moves behind the wheel of the Land Cruiser he edged out some self-driving tourists to get us a front-row seat. We first spotted a male away from the pack. He wasn’t full grown, but still sported a decent-sized mane.

He didn’t stick around long, but the handful of mothers and their juvenile offspring didn’t seem bothered by our presence as they sat staring as us and drinking water from the roadside ditch.

The lions were quite close, but there wasn’t any serious danger even though the game drive trucks are open-air and don’t have anything on the sides to protect passengers.



Lions actually have quite poor eyesight and can’t really distinguish you as a human when you’re inside the truck. You basically look like a giant blob or rock – not breakfast. If you make sudden movements or stick your arm out, however, you might end up looking tantalizingly like a tasty impala.

Thanks to the previous rhino sighting, plus earlier elephant and buffalo encounters, all three of us were now sitting at 4/5 on the big five checklist.

The lion sighting in the morning was exciting, but the best sighting game the next night during a sunset drive.

Once the sun went down a few of us in the truck broke out giant spotlights and scanned the bush for glowing eyes. A few times I spotted eyes – including the glowing red eyes that usually come from a big cat – but by the time we stopped and scanned the area again whatever I saw was gone.

Eventually we came upon another truck that found a lion pride sleeping in the road. The female lions hadn’t risen for the evening yet and sleepily looked at us as we parked a few meters away.


Soon they got up to start their night of hunting and walked over to the truck. One of the lions walked right up to the back corner where Marcus was sitting and bushed against the tire. She was maybe a meter away from him.

Good kitty.

Good kitty.


On the night drive we also spotted a wild cat, which is the smallest of the cats in Kruger and the closest ancestor to modern domestic cats.

I’ll have more blogs in the coming week (I promise!), including more about the last weeks in South Africa, Turkey and some of my thoughts about politics and race in South Africa.







The fishing industry in Kalk Bay


A fishmonger sells mackerel in Kalk Bay harbor.

Some of my favorite places to visit in Cape Town are the small beach towns and neighborhoods that line the coast of the Cape Peninsula around False Bay. The towns are all technically in the city of Cape Town, but are pretty far removed culturally and geographically from the urban parts of town.

Many of the beaches are renowned for their surfing, swimming and diving. The water on False Bay (here’s a map so you know what I’m talking about) is warmer than the Atlantic side of the Cape so there is also much more aquatic life in the bay. Those fish mean there is a vibrant fishing industry in the area.

Kalk Bay, one of the towns along False Bay, has a busy harbor that is open to the public. Anyone can wander the docks or stop at one of the stalls set up harborside and buy fresh fish. Today the fishmongers were selling yellowtail, bream, shark, mackerel, snoek and other fish.

Here are some of my photos from today, plus you can see my full photo set on Flickr.





Conquering the Cape Argus Cycle Tour

argus 2

Celebrating with Oliver. Five months ago he planted this idea in my head and here is the result!

After enduring 109 kilometers, I finally have a race medal I can add to Ali’s overflowing wall of racing accomplishments.

My official time in the Cape Argus Cycle Tour was 4:54:36, which I’m very happy with for my first-ever bike race.

The racing aspect was fun, but the atmosphere along the course made the day incredible. I now understand why so many of my friends keep signing up for races. The feeling of competing and riding/running with so many other people is a special thing.

There were 35,000 cyclists in the race and tens of thousands more Capetonians lined the roads to cheer us on.

The biggest crowds headed to two of the four large climbs – Edinburgh Drive and Suikerbossie. People cheered, sang songs, played instruments, sprayed water and a few handed out beers.

In one beach town I saw some guys who had opened their garage along the street, set up a small stage and rocked out for the cyclists cruising by.

The crowd was especially helpful on Suikerbossie, which is the most notorious hill on the course. The 2.5 kilometer climb is consistently steep and unmercifully comes after you’ve already completed almost 90 percent of the race.

I had climbed Suikerbossie and Chapman’s Peak – the second hardest climb just about 7 kilometers earlier – many times since they are near by house. I’m very proud to say that I set personal records on both climbs during the race. The cheering crowds gave me an extra kick.

Two sections race stand out to me as particularly memorable. The first came as we passed through an area along the Atlantic coast called Misty Cliffs. When I rode Misty Cliffs in training I had a stiff headwind, but on race day the wind was at my back.

The southeaster that was helping push us also tends to clear up the ocean, so the water was looking especially blue and clean as you looked down the cliffs and saw thousands of cyclists for kilometers in the distance.

Misty Cliffs

Misty Cliffs

My other favorite section came about 30 minutes later as we passed the Ocean View township. In every town we passed people lined the streets, but the Ocean View residents took it to the next level with a dozen-person drum band and a giant cardboard and paper-mache figure that was dancing around. Little kids even lined the roads and held out their hands for high-fives. It was an amazing boost during the later stages of the race.

It was an incredible day and will easily be one of the highlights of my trip. I’m already planning and plotting ways to get back to Cape Town and ride this race again.

Celebrating with some well-deserved beers.

Celebrating with some well-deserved beers.

Riding the Cape Argus Cycle Tour

Spandex! Woo!

Spandex! Woo!

The nerves are starting to kick in. I just finished laying out all my gear for tomorrow’s Cape Argus Cycle tour and all that’s left to do is ride.

The Argus has been the talk of town all week not just because it’s a huge annual event, but also because the wind forecast looks particularly terrifying. The last few days have been absolutely perfect cycling weather (no wind and cool), but overnight the winds are forecast to really kick up.

Some forecasts had predicted gale-force winds by the end of the race, although it now looks like things won’t be quite that bad.

Sunday’s winds will be the famed Cape southeaster, meaning it will blow into our faces or slightly across us for the first half of the ride (which is normally considered the easier half).

It hopefully won’t be as bad as 2009, which organizers called the worst weather in the history of the race. I met a cyclist the other day who told me that as many as 10,000 of the 35,000 racers made it to the 40 kilometer mark and decided to just hop on trains and head back to town instead of continuing on.

Making sure all my gear is ready. (Yes, there are butterflies on my sheets. What of it?)

Making sure all my gear is ready. (Yes, there are butterflies on my sheets. What of it?)

Wind or not, I’m beyond excited for the race. It is the largest timed cycle race in the world and covers some of the most beautiful roads around Cape Town.

I’m starting the race at 8:09 a.m., which is a pretty good start time for the 109 km (68 mile) race. Normally faster riders get the prime start times, but us international entrants get a few of the choice spots.

Without the wind I had a goal of finishing under four-and-a-half hours. With the wind I’ll just be happy to cross the finish line.

I’ll post an update tomorrow with my time. Wish me luck!

I opted out of getting my legs waxed. I'm not that hardcore.

I opted out of getting my legs waxed. I’m not that hardcore.

Braai time at Mzoli’s


There are a few things in the world that seem to bring people together. On Sunday I found three of them: beer, meat and music.

Welcome to Mzoli’s Place, which has been called Cape Town’s church of meat.

Mzoli’s is part restaurant, part butcher shop and part dance club. It’s also a place where people from all walks of life in Cape Town get together to drink some beer and eat some meat.

The crowds at most bars and restaurants in Cape Town tend to be relatively homogenous considering how multicultural the city is. The coffee shop I’m in right now, for example, has an almost all-white clientele. Mzoli’s is one of the few places I’ve found that destroys that mold.

More on that in a minute but first let me set the scene for you.

Mzoli’s is located in Gugulethu, a black township of about 100,000 people located 20 minutes outside of central Cape Town.

Technically it’s a restaurant, but it’s likely not like any restaurant you’ve probably ever been to.

Sundays are the most popular day to visit and by the time we arrived at 12:45 there was a line snaking down the block.

We stood in line for close to 90 minutes, although even the queue was a cultural experience. The party vibe started in the streets as people milled about drinking beer and hawkers tried to sell sunglasses, hats and t-shirts.

Mzoli’s itself is a one-trick pony. You can buy meat there and that’s about it. If you want beer, bread, salad or anything else you have to bring it yourself. You even have to bring your own napkins, knife and cups (I didn’t see a single person using a fork or plates).

You can easily find beer at nearby shebeens, a roadside stand or from the mamas who live on the block and sell bottles out of their front doors. Technically you’re not supposed to drink on the street but that rule is mostly overlooked for people hanging outside Mzoli’s.

Once inside we were funneled to the meat counter. You walk along and point out which cuts you want as they are piled on a large metal tray.


The clerk picked out our selection of steak, boerwors, ribs and lamb, seasoned it and added a cup of Mzoli’s special braai sauce. After weighing the pile and paying, I carried the tray to the next room where cooks were grilling over four giant wood-fired braais.


The braai room was easily over 100 degrees, full of smoke and has a smell that rivals the best barbecue joints in the states. There were several employees whose sole jobs were to bring in wheelbarrow loads of chopped wood to fuel the fires.

We made our way to the dining area, which is more dance club than dining room. People sat at long plastic tables grabbing at piles of meat as others danced to the DJ in the empty spaces between tables. A few guys with drums wandered around the room playing along with the blaring African house music.

It was easily the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at a Cape Town establishment. Foreign tourists with cameras, African hipsters with trendy haircuts, Gugulethu locals, white and colored South Africans all sat together, danced and shared drinks.

As the afternoon went on the rain picked up and the covered area grew more crowded as people crammed in for shelter.

We were jammed in shoulder to shoulder but nobody seemed to mind. At one point a dude behind me literally chugged his drink (a bizarre combo of grape soda and Hennessy) just so he could use the glass to pour me some cognac.

Finally it was time to get our meat from the braai. There isn’t any real way to alert you when the food is ready; you just have to guess how long it will take judged by seeing when people who were just ahead of you get their food.

An employee did his best to manage the chaos as hungry patrons yell out their order number. He made a mental note of a few returned with large bowls of cooked meat for the orders that were ready. It’s a bit like roulette – you have a number and hope you win.

The madness as people tried to collect their meat.

The madness as people tried to collect their meat.

Numbers around ours seemed to be coming up so for about 15 minutes I stood around yelling out “692! 692!” hoping my bowl of meat would arrive. It finally did and I ventured back through the crowded dance floor holding the meat above my head.

By this point we were all starving and didn’t hesitate to rip in with our hands. Not that it mattered, anyway; tearing apart chops and ribs with your hands is standard practice at Mzoli’s.

We gave some women sitting next to us a few ribs and part of a steak for helping to save seats while I retrieved the food. They happily offered up some of their extra pap, a polenta-like dish that is common in South Africa.


My South African friends all let out a big smile when I mentioned I spent the afternoon at Mzoli’s. It is widely considered to be one of the best parties in town.

It’s so encouraging to see people from around town heading to a township for an afternoon of food and dancing. There is still some petty crime (a friend there with a diff

erent group that day had to chase down someone who reached through a fence and grabbed a purse) but in general the neighborhood felt safe and welcoming.

Another friend tells a story of parking outside Mzoli’s on a past trip and seeing an old man walk out of his house. The man approached my friend, gave him a big hug and said “it’s so nice to see white people coming to visit our neighborhood.”

One guy in our group was from Johannesburg and admitted at first he was a bit nervous about venturing into the township. After a few minutes at Mzoli’s, however, he looked around and remarked how great the energy was. By the end of the day he made us stop to buy a t-shirt commemorating the trip.



An afternoon in Imizamo Yethu

A small convenience store in Imizamo Yethu.

A small convenience store in Imizamo Yethu.

Cape Town is a city of contradictions. My goal is to use this blog to give my perspectives on these contradictions and one of the starkest examples is right here in my own backyard.

I’ve written about the charms of living in Hout Bay; it’s a lovely beach town with a laid-back vibe, good restaurants and nice people. The homes here sit in a valley with the ocean on one side and the mountains of the Cape Peninsula above.

Looking up from the beach you see nice houses and apartment buildings dotting the hillside. You’ll also notice two areas that stand out from the affluent neighborhoods: Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg.

These areas are both low to middle-low income areas inhabited largely by people who work in Hout Bay’s fishing industry or as service and domestic workers.

South African neighborhoods are generally divided by race and these townships are no different. Hangberg mostly has a coloured population, while Imizamo Yethu is largely made up of black residents.

On Tuesday I visited Imizamo Yethu as part of a walking tour organized by a local community activist named Kenny Tokwe.

The main street through Imizamo Yethu.

The main street through Imizamo Yethu.

Imizamo Yethu, which means “through struggle we achieve” in Xhosa, is home to about 25,000 people living in about 4,500 homes. The living conditions range from rudimentary corrugated metal shacks built on stilts over an old landfill to small brick homes with indoor plumping.

Only about 250 of the homes are made of brick and were built by an Irish charity. There are plans to build more permanent brick homes in the township and the government administers a long waiting open to residents who make less than 3,500 rand a month (about $325).

The brick homes, one of which I visited, are relatively nice by township standards. The one I saw had two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and a bathroom with toilet and shower. Two families lived there.

Those families are well off by Imizamo Yethu standards. Most people live in the metal shacks.

It was around 85 degrees when I visited. Inside one of the metal homes the temperature easily exceeded 100.

Informal settlements in the township. These are built on stilts that sit on an old landfill.

Informal settlements in the township. These are built on stilts that sit on an old landfill.

These shacks are designed to be temporary, but long waits for brick homes and the difficult nature of improving your economic situation in South Africa mean that people end up living in them for long periods if not forever.

Many of the shacks in Imizamo Yethu have electricity and at least one faucet in the kitchen, but they do not have showers or private toilets. The family gracious enough to let me visit their home bathed with two small plastic tubs and shared an outhouse about 100 meters up the road with four other families.

The houses may not be much, but every house I saw was well decorated and clean. I’m told the bathrooms are also kept very clean. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be proud of your living space.

Imizamo Yethu-7

In the Cape Flats, which is home to the largest township Khayelitsha, many homes are built in low-lying areas. When it rains in the winter the water table rises and floods homes. In Imizamo Yethu, many structures are built on the old landfill, which also leads to problems with unstable ground in the rainy months.

This is why access to permanent structures is so important. How are you supposed to find or keep a job when you have to worry about your house flooding or deal with the disease that comes along with it?

All over Imizamo Yethu there were people working to help residents find good employment. For example, the American tech research firm Gartner built a computer lab where one of the residents teaches others basic computer skills.

There are also services that help people write resumes, a public library branch and I even saw a sign advertising a local business school and start-up incubator.

Imizamo Yethu-3

Imizamo Yethu-9

Imizamo Yethu has a 30% unemployment rate, which is better than some other townships but still far too high. Nevertheless, some people in the township make enough money to send some remittances back to their families, many of whom live in the Eastern Cape.

Imizamo Yethu (also known locally as Mandela Park) also has a large number of international residents. There are people from 15 different African countries in the community, including migrants from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Somalia. The Somalis run most of the township stores and it’s common to see Zimbabweans or Malawians throughout Hout Bay looking for domestic work.

Tensions between poor South Africans and migrant workers have boiled over at times in recent years. The New York Times wrote about an incident last July where some Malawian and Somali residents were briefly forced to flee Imizamo Yethu after local residents attacked them. The violence was sparked by a rumor that one of the Malawians was responsible for raping a local girl.

Taking a township tour can be a strange experience. On one hand, it’s important to see that there is more to Cape Town than scenic vistas and trendy restaurants. But on the other hand you’re essentially gawking at poverty all the while knowing you get to leave at the end of the tour and find air conditioning or enjoy a cold beer at some beachside café.

I asked Kenny if residents in Imizamo Yethu resent the fact that busloads of white people regularly stroll through their neighborhood to observe the poverty from a safe distance and take a few pictures of the cute kids.

He said there isn’t much resentment because people know that tourists and visitors bring in money. I’m sure there must be some resentment, although it is true that the tours are a vital part of the township economy.

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Some of the brick houses and apartments in the township.

I’ve generally avoided buying souvenirs from the touristy markets but happily bought items from the township store. The people who open their houses also get a fee for their trouble and maybe a tip from the tourists.

More importantly, the tours raise awareness of their plight. The residents of Imizamo Yethu aren’t yet at a point where they can’t cut the umbilical cord of foreign aid.

The Irish charity that built the houses, for example, started when the Dublin pub magnate who funds it visited Imizamo Yethu and was moved by the people there. Next thing you know, he and Bob Geldof were touring and building houses and Kenny was in Dublin meeting with the Irish president to tell her what his people back in South Africa needed (he said access to better housing).

That money, the computer lab and other advances in the community wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for outsiders being welcomed in.

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It’s important to be self-aware when visiting Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg or other townships. Even in dire situations people can be friendly and want to show off when they are proud of something2.

One of the first things you see when walking up the main road into Imizamo Yethu isn’t a pile of trash or a rundown shack. It’s a giant piece of art. The life-size, multi-colored paper mache elephant was made by a group of local schoolchildren.

In what seems like a fitting metaphor, the tusks of the elephant are broken off. The harsh winds that scream down the peninsula blew the giant piece over and the tusks didn’t stand a chance. Unfazed, the residents lifted up the colorful creature and put him back on his feet.

Imizamo Yethu

1 It’s very common in South Africa to have a maid, gardener, dog walker, etc. My housemates, for example, employs a maid named Sasa who comes three times a week. Other people I know who are my age have a maid who comes daily. Not quite a luxury my friends and I back home can afford.

2 Bonus tip: Before you visit a township learn some basic Xhosa (or whatever the predominant language is). Most of the tourists who visit are straight off one of the double-decker buses that ferry people around and haven’t taken the time or aren’t comfortable speaking a little Xhosa. Learning to say “molo!” when you meet someone or “enkosi” when they let you in their house will go a long way and you’ll see a lot more smiles. The kids also think it’s hilarious.

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Learning to speak Xhosa, or Ndifunda Xhosa

Ivy teaches a Xhosa lesson at The Foreign Exchange.

Ivy teaches a Xhosa lesson at The Foreign Exchange.

You often hear South Africa described as “The Rainbow Nation” because of its ethnic and racial diversity. With so many different people living in the same country you hear a wide variety of languages spoken in public.

South Africa has eleven official languages. The four most common languages are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, in that order.

Zulus are not generally from the areas around Cape Town, so you don’t hear a lot of Zulu spoken in this part of the country. In Cape Town, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa are most common.

Fewer than 10 percent of South Africans speak English as their first language, but in Cape Town it is the lingua franca. South African media is dominated by English and it is also the language of commerce.

Afrikaans is the language Dutch settlers developed and shares many similarities to Dutch. It was the dominant language under apartheid and is still taught to all schoolchildren. English-speaking whites generally speak at least some Afrikaans and coloured people also speak dialects of the language.

Zulu and Xhosa are Bantu languages and are the two largest “home languages,” or languages spoken before European settlers arrived. They share similar structure and vocabulary. Native speakers of one language can generally understand the other.

Zulu is predominant in the eastern part of the country so you don’t hear much of it in Cape Town. Rather, Xhosa tends to be the predominant language among Cape Town’s black population.

If you’re looking at the word Xhosa and thinking, “how the heck do I say that?” then check out the video below. Xhosa features three clicks. A written “x” represents one of the clicks.

The kitchen staff at The Foreign Exchange, Oliver and Sean’s bar, are all Xhosa speakers and each Monday the head cook Ivy holds a Xhosa class for anyone who wants to drop in.

I went to my second lesson on Monday evening and I’m starting to get a decent grip on the basic greetings. I can now say “hello,” “how are you?” and “I’m fine, thank you.”

Allow me to demonstrate in writing so you can practice along. Here’s a basic greeting:

Me to a female friend: Molo, sisi! Hello, sister! (Molo is often followed by calling someone brother, sister, father or mother, even if the person isn’t related to you. Sister is sisi, brother is bhuti, father is tata and mother is mama.)

Friend: Molo, bhuti! Kunjani? Hello, brother! How are you?

Me: Ndiphilile, enkosi. Kunjani kuwe? I’m fine, thank you. And how are you? 

Friend: Ndiphilile, enkosi. I’m fine, thank you.

That’s pretty much what I have down, although it’s enough to put a big smile on the face of my friends in the kitchen when I walk in the bar and say “Molweni bosisi!” (Molweni is “hello” to a group of people and “bosisi” is the plural “sisters.”)

After Monday, Ivy was also gracious enough to cook a traditional Xhosa meal for dinner. The meal was all vegetarian and reminded me very much of traditional Southern food.

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Ivy shows off her amazing Xhosa meal.

The center of the dish was umqushoo, which is made of samp and beans and to me tasted like black-eyed peas. If the Internet is to be believed, it was apparently Nelson Mandela’s favorite food. (Mandela spoke Xhosa and was born in the Eastern Cape, where most Xhosa people still live.)

We also had pap, a maize mash that tastes like spongy polenta; umfino, which is boiled spinach; isonka samanzi, a steamed bread; amogqinya, a savory fried donut; and chakalaka, a relish with peppers, corn beans and other vegetables that is actually not a Xhosa dish, but is very common across South Africa.

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Tomorrow afternoon I’m going on a tour of the Imizamo Yethu township in Hout Bay, the suburb where I live. Hout Bay is an interesting place because the center of town in an affluent, predominantly white beach neighborhood, but it is bookended by two townships that are very poor. Imizamo Yethu, where I’m going, is the predominantly black township and Hangberg is largely populated by coloured residents.

(Don’t think of coloured in the American sense. It is a racial term used to describe people who have mixed ancestry from Khoi tribes, Europe and other assorted groups. Coloured people had a different, higher status than blacks under apartheid. I’ll get more into this is a later post I’m writing about my reflections on race in South Africa.)

I’m going on the tour with a community organizer in the township who Sean introduced to me. I’ll write more about it in the coming days.

Hear legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba perform “The Click Song” to really appreciate how beautiful Xhosa can be:

(Ndifunda Xhosa in the title translates to “I’m learning Xhosa.”)